Over 50 photographers were picked for this winter’s exhibition, coming from a range of backgrounds and genders and shooting in a whole host of places around the world. Some are prestigious, others less so. All target man as his/her subject. With so much choice it’s funny then that only a small few took my eye!
There obviously exists a ‘type’ of photo that appealed to the selecting panel. It had to have a vibrant narrative. It had to have ‘good’ composition. The lighting had to be well placed. In short, there was little in the way of aesthetics; it is an exhibition of ‘show-and-tell’. Instead of naming it a ‘photographic’ prize, why not ‘photo-journalists’ prize or ‘documentary photography’ prize?
Of course, this is not to remove from the quality of the photos. The compositions are very professional and the narratives are very interesting. I would just like to observe them without the distraction of a few paragraphs outlining why I must find it interesting. An image should speak for itself!
The prize was won by ‘49 year old’ David Chancellor (as if the age is really necessary). His image of Josie Slaughter, 14, from Alabama riding a horse on a hunting trip around South Africa did not exactly capture my imagination. Her affirmative posture and the vivid reds and ochres of her hair juxtaposed with the similar colours of the horse and carcass are obviously what the judges picked up upon. However, I really feel like the photographer hasn’t unveiled the truth behind his subject. The merit is in his composition, not the target of his photograph. I feel little wiser about Josie Slaughter than before I’d even contemplated the image other than the knowledge that she exists.
Further into the exhibition I discovered an image by Tina Hillier entitled ‘Gabriella in the Woods’ – from her series ‘Stories about you and I’. I was immediately grasped by the image. A half-naked young woman stands in the centre-left of the image looking up at the trees that surround her. The shadows of the forest creep forward from a sunlit background and I can feel the space, the atmosphere. I feel her freedom. I breathe in, attempting to sustain my empathy with her. She is one with the forest, and it is my longing for that feeling that ‘wounds’ me, as Roland Barthes would put it. I read the text beside it, but obtain nothing and continue with the image.
I was also struck by Panayiotis Lamprou’s ‘Portrait of my British Wife’, which won second prize. Its beauty lays in its honesty. The boundary between photographer and subject is breached by the relationship of the two. In her most vulnerable state she gives her image to him. The photographer understands her as if he were painter, yet the image hides not behind layers of paint. Instead she is revealed as mortal, as beautiful, as true. It is difficult not to be compelled by her. The adjacent text reveals that the image was not intended for show, possibly allowing us to understand the origin of such honesty in a photograph.